In December 2020, we were delighted to announce that we are working with Coventry UK City of Culture 2021 on our new project Abundance, to uncover the hidden talent in Coventry and Warwickshire’s South Asian communities.
We began by launching a call-out for 10 individuals of South Asian heritage based in Coventry and Warwickshire (with a CV postcode). We wanted to hear from creatives of all kinds, at all stages of their career. From poets to costume makers, DJs to dancers, singers to outdoor artists, all were welcome to apply, whether they were already established, mid-career or just starting out.
Applications closed on Sunday 10 January 2021 and successful applicants were notified later that month. The successful applicants are due to form part of a network of artists to co-create the 2021 Carnival of Lights with communities in Coventry, and will receive a seed commission of £1000 to develop their idea, alongside an 8-10 week programme of workshops, mentoring and support.
Chenine Bhathena, Creative Director of Coventry City of Culture Trust, said: “Whether you’re an artist working locally, or even if you’ve never thought of yourself as artistic and want a to try your hand at being creative, there are opportunities here for all.
“We know there is a groundswell of creative talent across our grassroots communities. We want to make ensure that as many people as possible can take advantage of the city’s big year of culture to really show off their talents and creativity.
“The past 12 months has not been the year many of us had hoped for. The pandemic has hit all of us as individuals, families and communities very hard, here at home, across the UK and globally.
“But, as we look towards 2021 and reflect on the year we are leaving behind, we should also be proud of the resilience of our people, and see our UK City of Culture year as a time to come back together, build hope and kick start our recovery.”
Ten South Asian artists have been given £1000, bespoke mentoring and development training to see the next generation of diverse artists shine in Coventry.
The ten local artists have been recruited by Coventry City of Culture Trust and will be working with us here at Sampad South Asian Arts & Heritage, to develop and use their diverse range of skills and talents in order to get the opportunity to co-create the Carnival of Lights event during UK City of Culture 2021.
Each artist has a different artistic specialism that they can bring to the programme; including costume design, dance, film making and creative writing. The artists taking part in the programme are:
- Gayatri Pasricha, a UK-based graphic designer with a background in philosophy and economics.
- Bonny John, an experienced filmmaker and creative producer, with a history of working in the public relations and communications industries.
- Avtar Kaur, a costume designer with a BA in Fashion Design with Design For Performance from Birmingham City University. She loves to fuse British Victorian fashion and Indian culture into her designs.
- Nor Aziz, a creative engagement practitioner, focusing on creating a supportive community using a participatory approach.
- Lakshmi Srinivasan, a passionate and accomplished performer, tutor and choreographer, with a track record of work in the two distinct forms of Indian Classical Dance.
- Amisha Patel, a motivational speaker and cultural enthusiast who has worked with several South Asian Charities as a volunteer, undertaking a range of cultural activities in her roles.
- Kauser Husain, who has worked in the arts in both education and now in research, and is interested in creative writing.
- Sahyadri Friends Group, the winner of the Epic Peer Award for Excellence 2020. The group consists of a diverse mix of families from different parts of India, with a passion to build friendships and celebrate their diversities.
- Daksha Piparia, a community arts producer and project manager, and a member of several boards.
- Alex Kapila, an actor, presenter, voice over artist and performer, who most recently worked with us to play the role of The Psychiatrist in No Bond So Strong. Alex will work with Sarah Sayeed, a musician, composer and writer with over 15 years of experience working collaboratively with a range of artists.
The Abundance programme will see the group undertake a series of workshops and receive mentoring to develop their ideas and skills, before pitching to co-create the next Carnival of Lights event.
Navkiran Mann, Collaborative City team producer at Coventry City of Culture Trust said: “Coventry and Warwickshire have an abundance of South Asian artists skilled in a range of storytelling skills through digital arts using AR and immersive technologies, visual arts forms and performance art.
“In creating this programme, I wanted to build platform for South Asian artists to be seen, heard and acknowledged, not only to ensure representation but also to inspire the next generation of South Asian artists to take up space in arts and culture.
“It is vital that South Asian children growing up in Coventry and Warwickshire see artists in their own image to encourage the next generation of South Asian artists to pursue a career in the arts and to know that arts and culture is for everyone.”
Chenine Bhathena, Creative Director of Coventry City of Culture Trust, said: “As someone from a mixed south Asian heritage I am delighted that our UK City of Culture will celebrate and champion the rich and diverse cultures of the artists that live in the city. Our partnership with Sampad on Abundance will allow us to reveal the incredible South Asian talent that we have here in Coventry and Warwickshire.
“I can’t wait to see what these 10 artists are planning to contribute to the next Carnival of Lights and to our wider year of events.”
Sabra Khan, Executive Director of Sampad, said: “Collaboration has always been a central part of our work at Sampad, and we are thrilled to be working with such a passionate, skilled and varied range of artists for Abundance.
“We have been incredibly impressed with the talent in Coventry and Warwickshire’s South Asian communities, and we’re delighted to partner with Coventry City of Culture Trust to support the journey of these artists. We look forward to showcasing their work as part of Coventry’s Carnival of Lights, to provide some much-needed joy for audiences.”
Coventry UK City of Culture 2021 will commence in May 2021, running for 12 months. The 365-day cultural programme will reflect Coventry as a diverse, modern city, demonstrating that culture is a force that changes lives. Coventry is known internationally as a city of welcome, a city of activists and pioneers, peace and reconciliation, innovation and invention, and now a City of Culture.
Coventry is the city where movement began, from innovation in the transport industry to a history of welcome, it has moved people for centuries. For a whole year, Coventry will celebrate with events, music, dance, theatre, and large-scale spectacle. As well as these big celebrations, it will show its unexpected side, with more intimate experiences and ways to get involved in every neighbourhood. And it’s not just Coventry. This epic celebration will also witness the entire region getting involved and benefitting from the opportunities that being City of Culture brings.
Gayatri Pasricha, a graphic designer and one of the artists on the programme said: “The Abundance weekly sessions have given us all an opportunity to meet experts in the field as well as interact with each other. As someone who is new to the UK, this program has connected me to those interested in the arts. It has also given me the time and space to help me create a project which is linked to my roots, something that is not possible to do in my everyday work.”
Gayatri Pasricha is a UK-based graphic designer with a background in philosophy and economics. She strives to combine visual design with her cerebral pursuits. Her designs are playful but not frivolous; are researched but not complicated; they are subtle but not obscure. Her work can be found here: https://guy3.myportfolio.com.
Bonny John, a filmmaker and one of the artists on the programme said: “Through the Abundance project, it will give me the opportunity to work with digital art and be represented on a global stage as a creative.”
Bonny is an experienced Filmmaker and Creative Producer, with a history of working in the public relations and communications industries. He has been a Filmmaker for over nine years, working with many well-known brands such as Cadbury’s, Emirates, Carlsberg and Qatar Airways. Within the Midlands, he has achieved a Royal Television Award for best online promotional and has been nominated nationally for the Cream awards by the Drum network. With a background in Art and Design, his commissioned work has also been displayed at Tate Britain, London.
Originally from Kerala, South India, he has been living in the UK since 2004. Having experienced and lived in a wealth of cultures and languages, his work ethic is continually influenced by the strength of collaboration and values-based communication.
Avtar Kaur, a fashion and costume designer on the project said: “I am really excited to be a part of the Abundance cohort, this is an amazing opportunity for artists like myself to showcase our imagination and culture to our local community. Coventry is a full fusion of love, art and culture.”
Avtar is a Project Manager for Langar Aid, a project by Khalsa Aid International which works collaboratively with various organisations to eliminate food poverty across the West Midlands. Following the Sikh concept of Langar (“Communal Kitchen”), Avtar works alongside her father to provide food support to local homeless, isolated, and vulnerable people. She looks up to her father’s determinations in achieving goals. Born and bred in Coventry, Avtar grew up in a Sikh family and was inspired by her mother and aunt’s love for creating and sewing traditional Indian clothing, accompanied by various embellishments and fabrics. Avtar went on to achieve a BA in Fashion Design with Design For Performance from Birmingham City University. She loves to fuse British Victorian fashion and Indian culture into her designs.
Nor Aziz, one of the artists on the programme said: “I’m delighted to be part of Coventry City of Culture 2021 Abundance cohort and looking forward to working with the city’s creative practitioners to deliver a mystifying extravaganza of music, dancing and fireworks for Festival of Light in November. ‘Coventry Lights Up’ festival is about the inclusiveness and community feel that will see nine streams of homemade lanterns illuminating their way across our city before uniting and continuing for the finale.”
Nor’s connection with Coventry began in 1994 when she came to the city with her family to study Town Planning at Coventry University, going on to complete a doctoral research degree on climate change and local economy at the University of Warwick. She commuted to Surrey for eight years, working as a Sustainability Officer at Kingston University London, but left the post due to health reasons in 2014. Since then, she has played an active role as a Creative Engagement Practitioner, focusing on creating a supportive community using a participatory approach in order to help people realise their potential and to live the best life they can.
Lakshmi Srinivasan said: “This opportunity has paved a path to bring out my creativity and ambition to be a pioneer, embracing new challenges for future cultural development in Coventry and the West Midlands. This has brought a great sense of inclusion and bonding communities together. Bringing a positive social change for people to participate in the cultural activities in the city.”
A passionate and accomplished performer, tutor and choreographer, Lakshmi has a strong track record of work in the two distinct forms of Indian Classical Dance, Bharatanatyam and Bharatanrtyam. Her work as a performer, tutor and workshop leader has included work with the Imperial Society of Teachers of Dancing; Coventry University (Romani Arts Festival); Warwick University; Herbert Art Gallery & Museum; Southam College; DanceXchange; Sampad South Asian Arts (Margam, Midday Mantra series); International Dance Festival Birmingham; Chitralekha Dance Academy; Annapurna Indian Dance Company, and Coventry’s Big Lottery Fund Event. As Artistic Director of Coventry’s Ankura School of Dance, she provides Bharatanatyam training to students across the West Midlands. She has collaborated with numerous artists including Magdalen Gorringe for her ACE project, If I Could Reach Home, performed at Curve and Midlands Arts Centre.
Lakshmi was awarded a South Asian Dance Hub Commission, through which she worked with choreographers Kamala Devam and Shane Shambu to create Dance Of The Past And Present, a new piece which blends the unique movement of Karanas with Classical Bharatanatyam. She performed this for Sampad’s virtual Midday Mantra series in December 2020. Her vision is to build a strong foundation for South Asian dance in Coventry and West Midlands, extending strong roots for South Asian dance to be visible, sustain and thrive in the cultural ethos of the city.
Amisha Patel said: “Culture is all about acceptance, inclusion and connection.”
Amisha is a motivational speaker and cultural enthusiast. She has worked with several South Asian Charities as a volunteer, undertaking a range of cultural activities in her roles. She has worked with Coventry UK City of Culture 2021 as a Community Group Evaluator and performed Bollywood dance in the city’s 2020 Carnival of Light Festival. She is excited to bring South Asian folkdance to Coventry this year for the 2021 Carnival of Lights. She is thankful to Sampad South Asian Arts and Coventry UK City of Culture 2021 for this opportunity.
Kauser Husain said: “Being part of the Abundance project, as its title suggests, has given me an abundance of opportunities. It has acted as a catalyst for me to get involved in the community and engage with various groups to make my project ideas come to life. I’ve met some inspiring people and learnt about their contribution to Coventry. I am incredibly proud of the city and those that work towards making it UK City of Culture 2021.”
Kauser Husain, a creative writer, who has worked in the arts in both education and now in research, is interested in amplifying the voices and experiences of marginalised communities through her research and writing. With a background in literature, popular culture, race and identity, she is interested particularly in creative writing, and is looking to develop in the area of short stories, micro-fiction and script writing. Passionate about empowering others, Kauser is keen to amplify the voices and experiences of marginalised communities through her research. She is particularly interested in South Asian migration to the UK and 2nd/3rd generation experiences of education, employment and communities.
Sahyadri Friends Group
Chaitrali Chitre from Sahyadri Friends Group, which is taking part in the programme, said: “I feel extremely delighted to be a part of this project, which is going to have maximum South Asian involvement and create a platform for budding artists and entrepreneurs.”
Winner of the Epic Peer Award for Excellence 2020, Sahyadri Friends Group was founded in 2016. It consists of a diverse mix of families with a passion to respect their differences and celebrate their diversities. Sahyadri Friends is a melting pot where families from different parts of India with different cultural and religious backgrounds come together, uniting as one big family and helping one another to make Coventry a home away from home.
Sahyadri Friends are proud of their achievements; in less than four years, they have had the honour to be on the Coventry map for all their events and activities, which focus on nurturing the emotional wellbeing and mental health of its members. They bring the community together and provide a platform for both the women and children of the group.
Daksha Piparia, one of the artists on the project said: “’I feel incredibly fortunate to be on this programme and my hope is that I will be able to bring together artists and members of the community to create something beautiful to add to the Coventry’s Carnival of Lights and hopefully uncover some hidden talent.
“This programme is a unique opportunity for South Asian creatives to experiment, explore and expand their creativity with an amazing opportunity to bring their visions to life, I’m very grateful to be part of this project. It feels great to be a group of creatives, working on our skills and sharing the journey to bring something unique and amazing for the city in the form of Coventry’s Carnival of Lights, I’m very excited to see what we can come up with as a group.”
Daksha is a project manager, community arts producer, and a member of several boards. She grew up in Coventry and lives there with her husband, daughter and two sons. She has worked in several sectors, including banking and advice, and started working for herself in 2017. Her work is driven by her values of fairness and social justice. Lead volunteer at Foleshill Creates, the project provides opportunities for local people to get creative; creates a spotlight on, and community for, local artists, and tackles loneliness and isolation. Together they have delivered a number of community arts projects, including lantern-making for Coventry’s 2019 Carnival of Lights.
Alex Kapila, one of the artists on the programme, said: “I feel very lucky to have been given this opportunity, especially at this time. The arts have a powerful role to play in engaging, supporting and bringing enjoyment to individuals and communities and I hope that I am able to contribute to that very worthwhile aim.”
Alex is an actor, presenter, voice over artist and performer. She most recently worked with us to play the role of The Psychiatrist in No Bond So Strong, our life-affirming show about the challenges of motherhood, commissioned by BEDLAM Arts & Mental Health Festival.
Other theatre credits include Blue Prints (Birmingham Repertory Theatre); Humans At Work (Warwick Arts Centre); What Fatima Did (Derby Theatre); Food Bank As It Is (Tour); The Community Centre (Tour); Dirty Poetry (The Phoenix); Jane Eyre (The Attic Theatre); Dickens’ Ghost Stories (Blue Orange Theatre); Fémage a Trois (Tour); Rarer Than Rubies (Theatre 503); Cabaret Of Blood (Wales Millennium Centre), and Private Lives, The Deep Blue Sea, and Cyrano de Bergerac (The Bear Pit Theatre).
Alex will be working with Sarah Sayeed, a musician, composer and writer with over 15 years of experience working collaboratively with a range of artists. As a musical artist, Sarah’s practice focuses around contemporary works that influence Western classical choral works, orchestral ideas, Indian and Bengali classical vocals and instrumental works, Western contemporary jazz and urban music. Sarah plays the tanpura and shruti, and is the lead vocalist in the international duet Myth Of Her, performed with violin and electronic artist Anne Eltard (Copenhagen, Denmark). Sarah is currently training in classical vocals with leading Classical Indian Music maestro, Swati Natekar.
Sarah’s credits include Composer and Sound Designer for Santi and Naz (The Thelmas); Composer and Sound Designer for We Are Shadows (Tamasha); Principle Musician in Richard II (Shakespeare’s Globe); Composer and Musical Director for Tartuffe (Royal Shakespeare Company), and Sound Designer for She Bangs The Drums (Contact Theatre).
Main image: Carnival of Lights 2019, taken by Ahsen Sayeed
Top image: Rabiyah Latif.